Jaguar XE review - Jag's smallest saloon tackles BMW's 3-series head-on

evo staff
24 Jun 2016

XE is a stunning compact sports saloon capable of challenging the status quo

Evo Rating: 
from £28,295
Very refined yet wonderful dynamics, excellent design
Rear space is tight, odd ‘Comfort’ steering, some interior finishing niggles

Jaguar’s XE enters a fiercely contested segment of the market with a point to prove. The last ‘small’ Jag to be sold, the X-type, didn’t exactly set the world on fire and since then the Germans, Lexus and now Alfa Romeo have all moved the compact executive game on a long way. Further hurdles for the XE to overcome are ambitious cars trying to muscle into this sector from the one below, such as Volkswagen’s latest Passat and the fifth-generation Ford Mondeo.

The good news for Jaguar fans, and anyone who appreciates excellent cars, is that the XE thunders straight to the top portion of the class – it’s a superb saloon car in any guise, although the supercharged S model is the one that really floats our boat.

Jaguar XE in detail

> Performance and 0-60 time - All engines feel strong and the V6 is fun, but doesn't quite have the firecracker character of its F-Type equivalent. Read all about the Jaguar XE's performance here

> Engine and gearbox - Range consists of two petrols - a 2.0-litre and a 3.0-litre V6 - and a 2.0-litre diesel. Automatic transmissions make the best of the power and torque on offer. Read all about the Jaguar XE's engine and gearbox here

> Ride and handling - Dartier and more precise than most of its rivals, the XE is a sports saloon though and through. Read all about the Jaguar XE's ride and handling here

> MPG and running costs - The thriftiest diesel manages up to 75mpg – on paper. Low CO2 figures and long service intervals should reduce running costs further. Read all about the Jaguar XE's MPG and running costs here

> Interior and tech - Some interior materials can be questioned, but the general design and feel is befitting of a Jaguar. The latest InControl infotainment system is vastly better than its predecessor. Read all about the Jaguar XE's interior and tech here

> Design - Divides opinion in the evo office - it's slick and classy, but perhaps not as individual as you'd expect from a Jaguar, with hints of Audi and other marques to its detailing. Read all about the Jaguar XE's design here

Prices, specs and rivals

For £28,295, you can buy a 197hp 2.0 petrol SE, with the manual SE 161bhp kicking off the diesels at £30,245. The S tops things off at £48,045. All XEs get satnav, cruise control, DAB radio and at least 17-inch alloys as standard. Trims start with SE, which has cloth upholstery, but for £1000 more Prestige adds leather and aluminium finishers on the doors.

Above Prestige, you can opt for either the dynamic (R-Sport) or the luxurious (Portfolio), the latter costing a fraction more than the former. R-Sport is £1550 - £1750 above a Prestige and adds sportier elements to the exterior and interior styling, Portfolio is another £650 and upgrades the leather to ‘Windsor’ and includes more toys.

It’s worth noting that the 197bhp petrol is only available as SE, Prestige or R-Sport, while the 237bhp petrol can be specified in just R-Sport or Portfolio trim. Top-ranking S spec is reserved for the 3.0-litre supercharged V6. 

The compact executive car segment is incredibly competitive these days. Firstly there are the usual German options, the BMW 3-series, the Mercedes-Benz C-class, and Audi's A4. Of those, it's the BMW you're most likely to consider if you’re a keen driver – the 3-series now lags behind its German competitors in terms of cabin ambience and high-tech features, but it's still the most satisfying of the trio to punt down a twisty road. The BMW trades blows with the Jaguar as the best driver's car in its class, but the more nimble 3-series with its more sophisticated engines edges ahead slightly.

The C-class fights back with a fantastic cabin, one that takes more than a few cues from Merc’s flagship saloon, the S-class. Audi's recently introduced A4 is a model of competence; incredibly quiet and refined, and capable (if not that involving) on a twisty road.

Elsewhere the choices are more diverse, but each has its own appeal. Volvo's S60 is getting on a bit now, but it has some of the comfiest seats in the business and a relaxed demeanour. The Lexus IS is worth a look too, with sharp styling, a sense of build quality to rival Audi, and the option of hybrid powertrains. The outsider's choice is the Infiniti Q50, but with its frankly bizarre-feeling by-wire steering you’d only choose it if you desperately wanted to look different, it’s really not that pleasant to drive.

Alfa’s new Giulia is the compact saloon that really appeals to drivers. Whether it’s the 503bhp Quadrifoglio version, or the 2-litre petrol or diesel, the Giulia is the most focused small saloon on the market. All models come with super sharp steering, a carbonfibre propshaft and 50:50 weight distribution. The more ordinary models can also be specced with a limited slip differential (a torque varying LSD comes as standard on the Quadrifoglio), something that’s not an option on any of its competitors, not even the BMW. The LSD comes as part of a £1950 package that also includes variable dampers and wheel-mounted paddles.

> Read our review of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

The XE might offer a better all-round package than the Alfa – it’s more comfortable, more practical, it’s relatively handsome and it’s still fun to drive – but the Giulia is so much more exciting.

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